Threatening Words 

By Seth Ogilvie

Last week, voters across the state received The Idahoan in their mailboxes, with thousands of words penned by editors Lou Esposito and Patrick Malloy. The mailer kept the Idaho political community talking for days. Was it electioneering? Was it a newspaper?  

There’s another question hidden within the pages of The Idahoan: Did it contain a threat?

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“She likes to say ‘remember the gal with guns,’’ Esposito wrote about congressional candidate Rep. Christy Perry. “We say if she has her vote on other issues WE WILL HAVE TO EVENTUALLY USE OURS.”

The poor sentence structure raises questions. What does Esposito want to use? Votes, or guns?

Perry took the statement as a threat. “The nasty and seemingly threatening comments made about me and other candidates put forth by that libertarian rag are perfect examples of what is wrong with Congress right now- lack of truthfulness, leadership, and civility,” said Perry, who is running for Congressional District 1. “It is insulting to the public-they deserve better.”

The comments came in an editorial titled “We Endorse Russ Fulcher for U.S. Representative, District 1.” The column said the usual nice things about Fulcher, and negative things about the other male candidates in the race, but reserved the “seemingly threatening comments,” as Perry said, for the only woman in the race.

Idaho Reports has reached out to Esposito and the Idahoan for clarification on the endorsement, but has not received comment.

But ambiguous writing and poor usage isn’t the only trouble The Idahoan has seen since landing in mailboxes last week.

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The Idaho Democratic Party has asked for an investigation by the Secretary of State’s office into the legal legitimacy of the newspaper. The question: Is it a newspaper protected by the First Amendment, or an electioneering pamphlet made to look like a newspaper?

The Democratic Party has also asked Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to recuse himself due to his relationship with Esposito. In 2011, Denney, then speaker of the house, appointed Esposito to the state redistricting commission. He also donated $10,000 of House Leadership fund money to Esposito’s Gun PAC in 2012.

Then there is the Idaho Freedom Foundation involvement. Freedom Index ratings are displayed throughout The Idahoan, and advertisements for the Freedom Foundation appear multiple times.

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“I saw the newspaper and the ads after it hit mailboxes,” said Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “They didn’t need my permission. All our stuff is public domain anyhow.”

That would mean your blog, newspaper, skateboard or any other object could also proudly display the Idaho Freedom Foundation logo without legal repercussions.

Then there’s the name. In 2007 Hoffman started a business called The Idahoan. Here is the filing:

Idahoan

You might notice Hoffman lists himself as editor and publisher, roles that Malloy and Esposito fill for the current incarnation of the paper.

But as of today, “I didn’t have any involvement in The Idahoan, its production, endorsements, funding or any other aspect of the publication,” Hoffman said.

Finding out if The Idahoan is a newspaper or a political expenditure could take some time. As for the “nasty” comment, you be the judge.

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In 2016, this PAC sought to elect Democrats. Now, it’s supporting a challenger to a Democratic incumbent.

By Melissa Davlin

 

 

 

On Friday evening, I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize, encouraging me to vote for Randy Johnson. That text sent me diving down a rabbit hole that showed either another split among Idaho Democrats, or a growing party that’s fostering competition.

“Hi Melissa. This is Chris. Have you seen that Randy Johnson was endorsed by Conservation Voters for Idaho and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii? I believe that he will provide powerful leadership in the Statehouse as a Rep for our District. Can I count on you to vote for Randy on May 15th?

–Paid for by Responsible Leadership for ID PAC”

I’m an unaffiliated voter in District 17, where incumbent Rep. John Gannon faces a primary challenge from first-time candidate Johnson.

Admittedly, I’ve paid more attention to state races than legislative primaries this year, and I didn’t know much about this political action committee. So I started Googling.

Responsible Leadership for ID PAC, headed by Jeremy Maxand of Boise, was formed in 2016. That year, the PAC received $96,000 from the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee — $70,000 in July, and an additional $26,000 in October. While the PAC received other donations, a sizable amount of its money came from the IDLCC. 

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That cash was mostly spent in the general election to get Democrats elected to legislative seats statewide. (The effort didn’t go so well, as Republican newcomers took out key Democrats that cycle, including then-House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston and Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow.)

Back to the IDLCC. Who donated to that? Democrats from across the state, and most of the Democratic lawmakers, including John Gannon.

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The same John Gannon that Responsible Leadership for Idaho is now trying to defeat by supporting Randy Johnson.

It’s important to note that there is currently no IDLCC money in the Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC. On Friday evening, House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said the IDLCC isn’t involved in the PAC’s endorsement process, and doesn’t get involved in primary races.

Still, it’s interesting that the PAC that worked so hard to get Democrats elected in the general election less than two years ago — and spend a lot of IDLCC money to do so — is now focusing on a primary race with an incumbent lawmaker. The only reported expenditure for the Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC is a Facebook ad for Johnson. (More may come out in subsequent reports, including, I presume, the money it cost to send me and other voters that Friday night text message.)

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding confirmed the IDLCC isn’t engaged in any political activity during the primary, adding that RLI PAC’s endorsement of Johnson won’t affect where the caucus puts its money in the general election, regardless of who wins the primary.

Gannon said he wasn’t involved in IDLCC decision-making in 2016, other than contributing money like most other Democratic caucus members.

“I don’t focus upon the downtown money,” he said in a message to Idaho Reports. “The Bench is where I focus and that includes my concerns regarding fighter jets at the airport which will result in hundreds of homes being unsuitable for residential use according to an Airport Study, a position that is different from downtown interests, as well as questions about the stadium. Another Bench priority is our schools and I am endorsed by the Idaho Education Association.”

In a message to Idaho Reports, Randy Johnson also focused on school issues and healthcare, as well as immigration.

“I’ve talked to hundreds of folks and have heard stories from DACA recipients, from parents who are afraid the deaf and hard of hearing program at Jefferson elementary could be cut and from countless people who are afraid of what healthcare insurance will cover,” Johnson said.

When asked for comment, Maxand of RLI PAC focused on what he thinks Johnson brings to the table.

“(H)e brings fresh energy and perspective to the Legislature,” Maxand wrote. “He’s a combat veteran, a neighborhood association president, he has two young boys in the public school system, and he knows the reality faced by undocumented members of our community.”

District 17 isn’t the only Democratic primary on the PAC’s radar. Maxand says Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC will have independent expenditures on behalf of Rob Mason, who is running for the open House seat in District 16.

Another note: Most of the PAC’s money this primary season is coming from out of state, including $3,000 from John Stocks, head of the National Education Association in Washington DC, and $2,000 from Janet Swanberg of San Francisco. Neither could be reached for comment; Maxand said Stocks’ contribution came as an advance for the general election, but was reported during this cycle.

And how about those endorsements? Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii has endorsed just three candidates this primary cycle: Johnson, Paulette Jordan for Governor, and Mason in District 16. (That District 16 race for retiring Rep. Hy Kloc’s seat has five Democrats.) PPVNW’s page has no explanation as to why it’s endorsing any of these candidates over their opponents. The website for Conservation Voters for Idaho has no endorsements listed.

 

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But Gannon has his own progressive cred. In a mailer sent to District 17 voters, Gannon touts endorsements from Medicaid for Idaho leaders Sam Sandmire, Luke Mayville, and Tracy Mulcahy Olson.

In short, this is a race you want to keep an eye on — especially as competitive up-ticket Democratic primaries will drive voters to the polls.

 

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Half a million dollars of grass seed

Updated 4:04 pm, May 6th, to reflect volunteer efforts from Reclaim Idaho and the cost per signature.

By Seth Ogilvie and Melissa Davlin

Idaho will have to wait and see if the effort to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot worked, but at least we now know how much a grassroots effort can cost you: almost half a million dollars, with grass seed shipped from Washington DC.

 

 

 

The DC-based Fairness Project spent $474,042 trying to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot, almost all of which was spent on signature-gathering through Fieldworks LLC.

But Fieldworks employees didn’t act alone. According to Reclaim Idaho, volunteers collected approximately 43,000 signatures, meaning paid Fieldworks employees gathered the remaining 17,000.

That’s an impressive volunteer turnout, to be sure. But if that’s true, that means the Fairness Project’s money didn’t go very far. $474,042 for 17,000 signatures works out to about $27.88 per signature.

Compare that to the $45,485 spent by Reclaim Idaho for its estimated 43,000 names. That works out to $1.05 per signature.

In total, we know efforts to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot cost $519,527 between Reclaim Idaho and the Fairness Project. For 60,000 signatures, that’s $8.65 per name.

And there are still hurdles to clear. According to the last update Idaho Reports received from the Ada County Clerk’s Office circa 4:30 pm Friday, the ballot initiative had 43,981 verified signatures. That’s about 12,000 short of the needed 56,192 signatures statewide, but Ada County is still processing petitions. Though the campaign says it verified signatures as it went, the counties go through their own verification process, and the county clerks and Secretary of State are the final arbiters of that verification.

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Across the Aisle

By Seth Ogilvie

Lieutenant governor candidate Rep. Kelley Packer received a financial endorsement from House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel.

“We don’t always agree,” Rubel told Idaho Reports, “but I respect her.”

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A who’s who of Republican lawmakers surround the $100 donation from Rubel on Packer’s most recent financial disclosure. Reps. Caroline Nilsson-Troy, Rick Youngblood, Eric Redman, Dell Raybould, Maxine Bell, Neil Anderson, Mike Kingsley, and Steve Miller joined Rubel on the contribution list.

Republicans giving money to Republicans, however, is no surprise. But a Democratic House leader?

Rubel said she was interested in helping out what she thought was the best Republican for the job. “There are only a few people on that side of the aisle that I wouldn’t mind in office,” said Rubel, “and she is one of them.

The contribution came to light as Democrats have been picking sides in their own legislative and statewide primaries. Notably, Rubel has not endorsed either A.J. Balukoff or Paulette Jordan, choosing to stay neutral in a contentious gubernatorial primary battle. (Rubel is one of the few lawmakers who hasn’t endorsed. Twelve of the 17 Democratic lawmakers have endorsed Balukoff.)

Rubel’s bipartisan work has stood out in the House. She worked with Rep. Christy Perry on mandatory minimum legislation and Rep. Steven Harris on civil asset forfeiture reform.

In the last days of the 2018 legislative session, Rubel stood up to debate in support of Perry and Packer’s attempts to resurrect Gov. Butch Otter’s dual waiver health care proposal.

“I hold (Packer) in high esteem,” said Rubel. “She has displayed courage and civility in a place that doesn’t always have either.”

Rubel said she has not donated to any other Republicans this year.

Packer has managed to raise $25,586.29 this election cycle, the vast majority coming from her fellow Republicans. As of Thursday morning, hers was the only campaign finance form uploaded in the lieutenant governor race, except for former candidate Rebecca Arnold, who dropped out earlier this spring and raised no money.

Rubel told Idaho Reports that those partisan lines would be redrawn this fall. “I will support the Democratic candidate in the general election,” she said.

But for now, she’s happy to support her colleague across the aisle. “On the Republican side, she would bring the most credentials to the office,” Rubel said.

 

 

Corrected May 3rd at 2:22 PM: A previous version of this story said Rep. Steven Miller cosponsored civil asset forfeiture reform.

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She’s got a ticket to ride, and everyone cares

By Seth Ogilvie

Vicky McIntyre wants to be the next treasurer of Idaho, which would make her the chief financial officer and banker of the state.

But she’s been accused of having trouble accounting for her own financial transactions as Ada County Treasurer, and it’s not the first time.

McIntyre has been in the news before. She misplaced a check in 2015 that led to a $19,000 settlement and recently she attempted to get paid for taxi rides that Ada County has already paid, but those incidents could have been honest mistakes. Scott Logan of KBOI-TV and Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman have comprehensive coverage of that.

Two of the transactions that happened earlier this year, however, are harder to explain away as a simple mistake. One purchase was for an NHL hockey in Las Vegas. The other was for a ride on a 550 foot tall Ferris wheel.

McIntyre told the Idaho Reports on Thursday the hockey tickets were offered as part of the annual Government Investment Officers Association conference, which took place  March 21-23 this year. The tickets were put on her county credit card. “I got an email from the conference asking me to attend,” McIntyre told Idaho Reports on Thursday. She could not immediately produce the email.

“I didn’t intentionally use it for something I didn’t think was appropriate,” McIntyre said.

The tickets were not accidentally added on to the bill for the conference. McIntyre didn’t pay for the conference on her county card; Rather, used a voucher from the county to pay for it. Yet she paid for the hockey tickets on the county credit card, and the hockey tickets were not related to participation in the conference.

Jennifer Felger, executive director of the Las Vegas-based Government Investment Officers Association, told Idaho Reports on Wednesday the hockey game was a “separate event not included in conference.” Tickets were separate, meaning McIntyre would have had to consciously buy them — which she says she did.

In the event description of the conference, there is no reference to a hockey game. The only conference event being held on the day of the hockey game was early registration and there was no official conference activity.

On Jan. 16th, McIntyre received a voucher from the county totaling $175.00 to pay for her conference fees. She said that money was put on her county card to pay for the conference. Here is the document:

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Fourteen days after McIntyre received the voucher, she purchased the hockey tickets. The receipt does not show a charge for the conference, lining up with Felger’s statement that the two events were separate. Here is that document:

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The two transactions were different things. The conference was an approved purchase authorized by the county. The voucher document proves that. McIntyre told Idaho Reports that a similar voucher document should exist for the hockey game, and that the purchase couldn’t have been made without the voucher.

Idaho Reports requested all documents related to the credit card purchases and travel, and did not receive any documents showing a voucher for a hockey game.

“There is no voucher for the hockey game, as it was a credit card transaction,” said Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. “The credit card can be used without a voucher, and the county is stuck with the bill, even if the purchase was not approved or appropriate.”

“They are probably not giving you all the documents,” McIntyre said when asked about the discrepancy.

Rich disagreed. “She and her office are the originators of those documents,” he told Idaho Reports on Friday. “We simply review them, and we have turned everything we have over to you. We would never knowingly withhold documents.”

According to the Ada County Accounting Handbook “purchase of personal items are strictly prohibited.” It continues, “reimbursement for alcohol, cigars, entertainment, etc., is strictly prohibited.”

The milage and the timing are also important here, as McIntyre bought the tickets two months before going to Las Vegas. She bought the tickets online after receiving an email from the Government Investment Officers Association. McIntyre says she purposely bought the tickets on the government card. It was no accident.

McIntyre also purchased tickets to take a ride on the LINQ High Roller Ferris Wheel, costing $104.00 on her public credit card. According to the current price list, it looks like the ride was at night. According to the documents, she brought a guest, and the ride had an open bar.

WHAT ARE THE TICKET PRICES?

  • Daytime ride ticket: $25
  • Nighttime ride ticket: $37
  • Youth pricing (ages 4-12): $10 daytime ride, $20 nighttime ride. Children 3 and under are free!
  • Happy Half Hour – Day: $40, includes ride with open bar
  • Happy Half Hour – Night: $52, includes ride with open bar

That transaction was processed via the Ada County accounting system on March 23rd. Take a look:

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McIntyre and a woman identified in documents as Beth reimbursed the county for that High Roller ride. (McIntyre has not reimbursed the county for the hockey game.) Regardless, personal purchases of any type with public money is against the rules reimbursed or not.

McIntyre has been asked to surrender her credit card. She has refused.

“Every department has things like this,” McIntyre said. “They’re just coming after me.”

“When things don’t align, it is my job to point out where things are wrong or could use improvement,” Rich said. “My office and I do that for the entire county — my office included. It is my job, and at times, it is not popular.”

The Idaho Debates where McIntyre addressed these issues with her Republican opponents Julie A. Ellsworth and Tom Kealey can be watched right here if you can’t get enough treasurer information.

 

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Wasden v. Immigration

By Seth Ogilvie

“They need to put on their big boy pants, and they need to fix the problem.”

That sharp line wasn’t coming from just anywhere. It came from Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and it cut toward Congress.

“This problem has to be solved. These are human beings,”  said Wasden, a Republican, as he addressed Friday’s University of Idaho’s Symposium on Immigration Law and Policy. “Our entire immigration system is awful, and it must be fixed.”

Wasden’s comment came as a surprise to those who remember that in 2017, Wasden joined nine other attorneys general and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to threaten President Donald Trump’s administration with a lawsuit if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continued.

Months after that threat and days after Wasden made his comments at University of Idaho, Trump announced on Twitter that “DACA is dead.”

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Former President Barack Obama’s administration created the DACA program by a memorandum on June 15, 2012. That memo instructed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to spend less time and money on low priority cases, and allowed for people to apply for a two year period without deportation.

In an additional 2014 memorandum, the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded the DACA program. DAPA works a lot like DACA, but for parents of American citizens.

To receive the DACA reprieve, people need to have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, enter the United States before their 16th birthday, be in school or have graduated or completed a general education program. They also must pass a background check.

Trump planned to end the program in March, but DACA is currently still in existence as several cases move through the court system.

Idaho currently has 6,497 total DACA approved cases as of January. If DACA is indeed dead, the federal government will attempt to deport these people, separating them from friends and family in our state.

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At the University of Idaho symposium on Friday, Wasden told a story of a deported friend.

“He was as American as I am or you are,” Wasden.

Still, Wasden said he believes Obama acted inappropriately with the creation of DACA. “It was false hope, because the next president has the same ability” to reverse Obama’s DACA decision.

“I’m on record saying Congress has to fix this problem,” said Wasden. “I don’t have a problem telling them face to face.”

When asked if he would go to Congress and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s office to demand a clean DACA bill — in other words, legislation dealing solely with childhood arrivals, without addressing a border wall, detention center funding, or other immigration issues — Wasden responded “absolutely.”

Wasden did not say when he has previously supported a clean DACA, but he claimed he had already said so on the record.

“This is a humanitarian issue,” Wasden said.

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Democracy in the streets

By Seth Ogilvie

Everyone has an opinion. The strange thing is some people are probably getting paid to think that way. As I stood in line to enter the Treefort music festival this past weekend, that became abundantly clear. A person with a clipboard approached me, asking “Do you like horseys? Do you like healthcare? Do you like healthy horses?”

Another person trailed behind the signature-gatherer, countering, “That’s not true. You need to get the facts.”

Two ballot initiatives were on the clipboard: One to expand Medicaid in Idaho, and another to legalize historic horse racing, an activity critics have compared to casino gaming or slot machines. That person with the clipboard was most likely paid to collect signatures for the two ballot initiatives, a common practice for groups looking to get issues in front of voters.

The person saying “That’s not true” was also most likely being paid.

I declined to sign the petition or enter into the conversation, but the new form of paid democracy made an imprint.

I witnessed the same interaction two more times over the Treefort weekend. It started to become a choreographed dance between the petitioner and the anti-petitioner. They both played their role and they both likely got paychecks, a jaded modern sense or democracy.

On Tuesday, I saw a different side of the issue. A young man wearing a “Save Horse Racing” shirt and holding a clipboard walked into a local coffee shop, talking loudly on the phone. “They’re harassing me. I just feel uncomfortable,” he said.

He appeared distressed. Melissa Davlin and I were close enough to overhear the conversation. After he hung up, I asked him if he would like to chat. He said  “You’re reporters. I can’t legally talk to you,” then left the coffee shop.

That is what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Those are the actors playing out this story.

These are the directors: A PAC called Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing, Create Jobs, and Fund Public Schools. Their chairman is the previous speaker of the house Bruce Newcomb and their treasurer is John Sheldon.

The other director is the North Idaho Voter Project. Their chairman is Heather Keen, and treasurer is Tyrel Stevenson.

Paid signature collectors are not new. They have existed in Idaho for years going back to Propositions 1, 2, 3, and before.

But those anti-signature gatherers stood out to us.

“Nobody is aware of this happening before,” said Todd Dvorak, director of public media relations for Strategies 360 in Idaho, a consulting firm involved with gathering signatures for the horse racing petition. “But I know companies who have contracted these sort of things out are aware of these things happening in other states.”

“I don’t think anyone invented it. If you look at California and Oregon, they do it all the time,” said Tyrel Stevenson, treasurer for North Idaho Voter Project. “It is democracy on the streets is what it is.”

Both sides claim a First Amendment right to be on the streets.

“We get the free speech thing. It protects the canvassers as it does the blockers, but the folks that are being harassed, we feel like that infringes on the democratic process,” Dvorak said. “We don’t think that is the way politics should be done in this state.”

“I think people’s First Amendment right to provide people with useful information is a very strong right, and I think it is not without limits. I don’t think it allows people to disturb the peace or to assault or batter. I don’t think there is an acceptance to criminal laws on the book right now for that type of conduct,” Stevenson said. “I can assure you, any people that I’m associated with would never break the law, and if they do they are going to be subject to the same penalties that you or I would.”

The people gathering the signatures are required to follow Idaho election laws.

“(Petition gatherers) have to be Idaho natives. They have to be a certain age to take part in this and they are obligated to provide factual information about this and they are doing so verbally and in the pamphlets that we provide, and that information mirrors what is on the ballot, and that information has already been signed off on by the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State,” Dvorak said. “(Our) side has to follow a certain set of rules. The other side doesn’t have that set of standards.”

According to Tim Hurst, chief deputy at the Secretary of State’s office, there is nothing in the code that would specifically address the ‘blocking’ outside of a possible intimidation statute.

“There is very little guidance,” said Stevenson. “I think there are a lot of questions that have not been resolved when it comes to initiative and referendum activity in Idaho. We’ve had so little of it. We haven’t had an initiative on the ballot in years. It’s so difficult to do it.”

“This is a blatant attempt to disrupt and undermine the process of direct democracy by physically and verbally intimidating voters,” said Bruce Newcomb, former Speaker of the House and chairman of the Save Idaho Horse Racing campaign, in a Wednesday press release. “While campaigns can be and often are wars of words, these folks are using in-your-face intimidation tactics to prevent the people from putting a key policy question on the ballot.”

“The blockers are waiting outside the headquarters every morning to follow where are folks are going, and to set up right where they are,” said Dvorak.

Legal action may be the only remedy available for petition gatherers who feel threatened.

“If people are breaking the law, they should contact law enforcement,” said Stevenson. Dvorak said no one has filed police reports.

The Attorney General’s office had not yet commented on whether there are any rules that would govern the interactions between pro- and anti-ballot initiative workers at the time this story was published.

For a ballot initiative to get on the ballot the bar is incredibly high. Regardless of the so called “blockers,” the chance of success is slim.

But Newcomb, one of the backers of the initiatives, asked in a press release what opponents are afraid of. “Why not allow the question to go to voters, who can then settle the matter at the ballot box?’” he said.

“They are not very happy with me right now,” Stevenson acknowledged. “If they were willing to stop gathering signatures, I would be willing to stop doing what I’m doing.”

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